Anti-Climacus


"Thou shalt not extinguish thine anger, but shall master it, that thy conscience may not be blunted by adjustment to wrong causes."
-The Dutch Ten Commandments to Foil the Nazis

8.11.12

You will probably not be surprised to hear it, but I thought Ken from Popehat and Killer Grease basically got the election right.

Ken:

This time it's really different! For sure! There are certainly demographic and cultural shifts going on in this country, and they will have an electoral impact. But I beg you, try not to be one of those people who buy into the "this represents a fundamental shift in the American electorate" narratives. In my lifetime, I heard it in 1980 and 1984 and 1992 and 1994 and 2000 and 2006 and 2008 and 2010, when one party or the other found favor, and there was much talk of "permanent majorities" and the like. Take it with a grain of salt.

I'm teaching mostly first-years and, as it happens, my first year of college was also a presidential election year. This made me feel both nostalgic and sad: I have never cared about a presidential election as much as I did in 2000, but I also regard this as essential to my mental health and emotional maturity. Because it's good to have the experience of passionately caring about something transient, especially while you're young: your hopes inevitably get disappointed and you recognize that the permanent majority you were hoping for will never materialize and, in any event, there's always another election. But at 18 or 19 it's hard to see that politics is a realm in which it's difficult to impose your will, and so little good can happen (but a lot of bad certainly can).

As it happens, on Wednesday we were reading Book One of Augustine's On the Free Choice of the Will, and were talking about temporal law. The eternal law addresses and concerns the things that are always just, but it's of limited use for actual politics because human beings have will. We drew out the implications of the problem of free will: it means that, even when people know perfectly well what the right thing to do is, they can choose not to do it. Thus you need temporal law, which is a system that attempts to restrain the worst of the impulses that arise from free wills. In discussing this, I think the students began to get a sense of what makes politics tragic: that it's a losing and imperfect battle against people who you can't really control anyway. This is the big, important point to realize: there is no salvation in politics. If you can learn to not expect it, you can avoid falling prey to the temptation to overvalue it. And that is, so far as I can see, the beginning of political wisdom.

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